Every three seconds, someone in the United States falls victim to identity theft. The Javelin Strategy and Research group reported in its 2013 Identity Fraud Report, that $21 billion was stolen through identity theft in America during 2012. Criminals use identity theft to get out of trouble with authorities, open credit accounts and make purchases that they never intend to pay for. If it's your identity they use, you can find yourself out thousands of dollars, deeply in defaulted credit or even in jail because the thief gave your name and information when questioned by police for something and then never appeared in court. The damage to your credit, reputation and lifestyle can be devastating. Knowing the signs of identity theft and how to protect yourself from it can keep you from falling victim, or nip it in the bud quickly once it has happened.
Signs that someone is using your identity include:
- Unfamiliar withdrawals from your bank account,
- Contact by collection agencies for bills you do not owe
- Mail no longer coming to your home or P.O. Box.
- Internal Revenue Service flags your return as a duplicate
Any of the above activities should alert you that you may be a victim of identity theft.
To block criminals from accessing your information online:
Criminals have no problem digging through your trash to get information they need to "become" you.
- Change log-in information monthly on all accounts tied to your money or credit.
- When it comes to buying merchandise/services online, use credit cards, not debit cards because the federal guidelines protecting consumers from fraudulent credit card purchases don't apply to debit cards.
- Avoid using stored links to sign into websites. Always input the site you want and enter it from there to ensure you are not being set up with a look-alike site designed to take your log in and personal identifying information from you.
- Shred any paperwork that can be used to steal from you. This includes old bills, bank/credit card statements and applications for work/utilities/accounts.
- Take advantage of your federal right obtain an annual free credit report and check it against what you know to be true about your credit purchases. Rotate them every quarter, by asking for one per year from each of the three top credit reporting agencies (TranUnion, Equifax and Experian).
If you suspect you are the victim of identity theft, notify authorities, your financial institutions, credit card companies, utility companies, medical insurance and social security immediately.